The Troubles With History

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Keep this paragraph in mind the next time you see a ‘great’ story about Honduras in National Geographic, or Time or The New York Times, because it will not be included in it:

“Instead of condemning the figures behind the uprising, suspending support to the illegitimate government of Zelaya’s successor, Roberto Micheletti, and demanding a restoration of the democratically elected Zelaya, Secretary Clinton decided to move on. In her memoir “Hard Choices,” Clinton wrote that after the coup, she went about hatching a plan with other leaders in the region “to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.” The United States pushed for elections, and in November 2009, despite a boycott by opposition leaders and international observers, elections were orchestrated by the same figures behind Zelaya’s ouster.

Since the coup, violence and assassinations, as well as persecutions of journalists and social justice advocates, have skyrocketed in Honduras. Last week’s high-profile murder of the Goldman prize-winning indigenous leader and environmental activist Berta Caceres is yet another tragic example of the abhorrent human rights record in Honduras under the government that came to power via the 2009 coup. Between 2010 and 2014, 101 environmental activists have been killed in Honduras, according to Global Witness. Clinton’s camp has said that allegations about her role in the 2009 coup are “nonsense.”

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Are We Winning Yet?

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It was just a little over a month ago that ‘important’ journalists were telling us that ‘Pakistan is winning the War against Terrorism’? There was this:

against which I had argued, among other points:

This narrative of ‘good’ mass murder (our Army’s) vs. ‘bad’ mass murder can’t fly. To even use the phrase ‘war on terror’ is a problem because it imposes a foreign framework of thought on what are regional – politically, historically, conflagrations and require local resolutions. You can’t kill a people’s discontent, you can’t repress political voices. Egypt tried this and has failed. The Army is not winning anything other than a war to coerce media messages – such as this piece clearly published in an American mag to satisfy our American patrons, but anyone who works on the ground knows and sees a people’s anger. It is this anger that requires this repressive apparatus against media and criticism. Our journalist are killed or quit and the army launches a massive PR campaign. Anyone who has spent a day in Quetta, or tried to speak to people anywhere near the FATA areas, knows about the massive human rights and common moral and ethical violations that are the footprint of our ‘brave’ military and its generals. What is taking place is mass murder of Pakistani citizens by its own military establishment, which uses selectively murdered ‘bad’ religious types to veil its other larger acts of criminality and violence. From Swat to Baluchistan, what is being sown will soon be reaped.”

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Erasures Of Habit

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Estrin writes an entire piece about ‘domestic violence’ i.e. violence of men against women, without ever once touching, suggesting, implying or overtly labeling this predominantly Christian, and vehemently Christian nation, for having a barbaric, backward, misogynist and anti-modern religion! Here, suddenly, it is ‘patriarchy’ that is to fault, as if ‘patriarchy’ isn’t indicted in faith and its hierarchies of power, interpretation and sanction!

No investigation of the passages of the Bible? No excavation of obscure and ancient quotes of Priests to justify? No bizarre and ahistorical constructions of social history that find an act from the 1st century AD Christian community and draw a straight line from there, to today? No suggestion that Christians and Christianity is incompatible with he tenets of modernity? No calls for a Reformation among the Armenians? No outrage at the ‘horror that women suffer’ under the tutelage of the Bible?

Odd.

Here are all the fashionable categories that the West loves to apply to the exotic ‘other’ – “honor killings”, “dowry death”, and what not, could be found, but of course are never suggested. Here, the faith becomes invisible, and suddenly ‘cultural’ structures are being sought, and of course, Christian realities entirely erased. The double standards are amusing to see. Inderpal Grewal’s fabulous essay ‘Outsourcing Patriarchy: Feminist Encounters: Transnational Mediations and the Crime of ‘Honor Killings’  could have been written in response to this piece alone. Or, you can also read a post I wrote earlier about this habit of manufacturing a ‘unique’ ‘Muslim/Islamic’ criminality here.

A Violent Language

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The language, and sentence structure, are critical to observe, in this piece. Towards the middle of this small news item, we find these sentences. Though they may be unthinkingly cut and pasted from earlier pieces or some standard al-Jazeera copy, it is nevertheless interesting to see how they were written:

“Baloch rebel fighters have waged war against the central Pakistan government for more than a decade seeking autonomy.”

This is a definitive statement, offered as ‘fact’. There are no qualifiers so that the reader knows for sure that these attacks are happening. But watch what happens in the next sentence.

” Locals accuse the government of exploiting their resources without providing adequate compensation.”

Suddenly, ‘locals accuse’ is dropped in when the position of the state as seen by those living under its burden are concerned. And this pattern repeats itself. In the very next paragraph, we read another definitive statement, followed by a qualified statement that yet against absolves the state of ‘factual’ crimes, and suggests that people saying such things are ‘alleging’ or ‘claiming’.

“Attacks on security personnel by separatist fighters are common – as are retaliatory operations by Pakistani forces, who rights group allege have abducted and extra-judicially killed hundreds of Baloch political activists.”

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Our ‘Honor’ But Their ‘Passion’

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This was a strong piece about ‘domestic violence’ that appeared in The New York Times, but as I read it I could not help but connect it to the recently celebrated question of ‘honor crimes’ in Pakistan, against which our feminist government and our liberal class, are determined to wage an all out war against. It is the construction of this category – “honor crimes”, and the way it has become a means to suggest something unique, specific, and original to Islam / Muslims, that I want to question. and this article is just the way to do it. More importantly, it is the way in which Western liberal feminists and ‘native’ feminist/activists (of a certain upper or middle class mind you – class is a critical factor in these campaigns) find reason to create ‘activism’, or ’emergency campaigns’ around these unique category of crimes, while remaining silent about the crimes against women within their own ‘civilized’ society where no such campaigns are organised, and no ‘human rights’ discourse is applied. In the West, the brutality of its patriarchy, the misogyny of its society, are almost always swept under the carpet of ‘individual trauma’ or complex ‘individual’ histories, thereby exonerating society, culture, politics, genetics, religion. That is, the very explanatory factors almost always offered to explain or analyze crimes against women in the Muslim / Islamic spaces. Details »

The Purity Of The Secular Imagination Or The Fantastic Liberal Imagination

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I am not sure how ‘gender equality’, ‘human rights’ and ‘civil liberties’ became associated with being ‘secular’. If we keep in mind the construction of ‘secular’ and ‘religious’ – both entirely European constructions, we see how in the concept of secular has a long history of European gender inequality, racial segregation and slavery, colonial repression and genocide, all of which remained happy travelers with the Enlightened. That is, despite post-Enlightenment Europe’s real history of racism, colonialism, genocidal violence, slavery and more, the idea that ‘secularism’ or the separation of ‘state’ and ‘church’ is a necessary precondition for peace and tolerance, justice and liberty, is frankly, quite bizarre. In fact, so much so, given the scale of violence inflicted by European nations on the rest of the world, and the gifts of racial violence, the Holocaust, and other general intolerance towards ‘minorities’ and the blacker people, it seems entire one of the greatest propaganda feats in human history. So much has been written about ‘secularisms’ dark legacy, that I do still find it strange when these easy dichotomies are created. But then again, American media has been a bastion of the anachronistic, out-dated and classically colonial mindset for many decades now. And this is the same media that can cheer lead towards multiple wars, the deaths of millions, the displacement of millions more, and continue to speak as if its ‘secular’ credentials and these ‘secular’ nations are where peace and liberty are found, and that it is religion in fact, that is the cause of violence and fundamentalism. This myopia if of course what allows hacks like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, or Alan Dershovitz, or so many of their fellow travelers to get away with the theoretical and rhetorical murder that they do. Yet, it is with amusement and bemusement to read articles such as this where a simple dichotomy is created.

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Prisoners Caught In The Searchlight!

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There is a uncomfortable relationship between winning awards and doing journalism. Or photojournalism. Personally, I find it odd that reporters and photographers are so keen to ‘pick up’ awards, to walk down red-carpets, to accept trinkets that are apparently there to mark their ‘achievements’. It begs the question: what is the journalist’s or photojournalist’s achievement? How does one measure that in fact? Well, clearly in photojournalism, the achievement is always merely aesthetic. The works are never measured for their political, social, cultural or intellectual impact. Never. We are merely happy to pick up awards because the pictures were nice. Its all quite insular, self-congratulatory, and in complete contradiction of the public rhetoric of the craft, and the moral grandstanding that so many writers and photographers spew in social media and interviews. Details »

War As A Product

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Militarism was thus being perpetuated at precisely the moment that it had become marginalised as a political program…[This was possible because of the]…spatial packaging of the underside of British modernity, in which Arabia figured as the last bastion of the world free from bourgeois convention, a place of honour and bravery (however mindless), of manly sportsmanship and perennial conflict…As Glubb put it, “Life in the desert is continuous guerrilla warfare,” and this meant striking hard and fast because that was the way of “Bedouin war.” “Not a moderate, but a maximum weight of bombs must be dropped” to maintain the native’s respect for airpower, insistend Flight Lieutenant Mackay. On his return home, General Haldane corroborated this truism about Arabs’ masochistic respect for “force, and force alone,” assuring audiences at the United Services Institute that though he had been “obliged t0 inflict a very severe lesson on the recalcitrant tribes, they bore me no resentment.” To them, Glubb elaborated, war was a ‘romantic excitement” whose production of “tragedies, bereavements, widows and orphans” was a “normal way of life,” “natural and inevitable.” Their taste for war was the source of their belief that they were “elites of the human race.” It would be a cultural offence not to bombard them with all the might of the empire (not least out of respect for the frequently invoked tribal principle of communal responsibility). Arnold Wilson confirmed for the Air Ministry that the problem was one of public perception, that Iraqis were used to a state of constant warfare, expected justice without kids gloves, had no patience with sentimental distinctions between combatants and noncombatants, and viewed air action as entirely “legitimate and proper.” “The natives of a lot of these tries love fighting for fighting’s sake,” Trenchard assured Parliament. “They have no objection to being killed.”  (Page 250)

Priya Satia Spies In Arabia: The Great War And The Cultural Foundations of Britian’s Covert Empire In The M.E. 

They are two individuals embedded deep inside America’s war machine. Ostensibly and formally introduced as ‘reporters’ for The New York Times, Helene Cooper and Adam Ferguson, we are told are “…aboard the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt in the Persian Gulf.” And they are supposed to be conducting journalism. The fact that instead they are producing propaganda pieces for the US military is rather difficult to avoid stating. I suppose in such a situation, where access to a major battle fleet has been arranged from negotiations between the highest levels of military command, and the highest levels of The New York Time’s corporate command, I can’t see either one being able to produce anything else. Details »

Old Wounds

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Every single magazine we submitted our Haiti work to refused to publish it. In fact, they spent more time mocking our efforts to reveal a mostly unspoken aspect of the toppling and kidnapping of the democratically elected Haitian leader Jean-Bertrande Aristide in 1994. So it was with some pleasure to read this piece in The Public Archive that in fact echos so much of what we had been trying to argue and reveal.

As Jemima Pierre writes:

The second occupation began June 2004 and was established under the pretext of “stabilizing” Haiti after the U.S.-sponsored ouster of the country’s democratically elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide. During the 2003 “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” France, Canada, and the US hatched a plot to overthrow Aristide. The following February their plan was implemented. Aristide was kidnapped by US marines and sent to a military base in the Central African Republic. US President George W. Bush announced afterwards that he was sending US forces to Haiti to “help stabilize the country.” As Peter Hallward documents, the invading “Franco-American” force targeted and killed Aristide supporters, installed a puppet Prime Minister, and enabled the formation of a paramilitary force that organized anti-Aristide death squads. The United Nations, then led by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, then cleaned up. According to Hallward, UN Security Council voted unanimously on April 29, 2003 to send, “an 8,300-strong UN Stabilization Force from 1 June, under the leadership of Lula’s Brazil.”

Writer Malcolm Garcia and I had travelled – at our own expense and based on our own research, to Port Au Prince to document the targeting and killing of Lavalas activists and Aristided supporters under cover of a UN mission, and with the support and collusion of the USA and France. Details »

We Wanted To See A Train Wreck. We Saw A Train Wreck.

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Bruce Gilden’s shallow, narcissistic work and methods, thankfully come into the limelight. I respect Stacy Kranitz’s self-awareness and self-confidence to have written about it:

The past few days have been hard,” wrote Kranitz on Instagram on June 7th. “I have been on assignment with another photographer, Bruce Gilden. He and I are at odds with the way we make our work. I watched him make portraits and aggressively enter my shot to get his own, while telling me ‘this is my shoot, you are just here’ I listened as he said disparaging things about people, I listened to his dissatisfaction with people being to [sic] ‘plain’ and late last night I could no longer stand by and continue to feel good about being bullied. He humiliated me in front of a group of church goers and I feel that I may have taken a stand at the wrong moment. That I was not being considerate or mindful of my surroundings either. I don’t hate Bruce or his work but I think turning people into what you want them to be, turning people into ‘self-portraits’ of yourself is complicated and dangerous especially in a place with a history of extraction.

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